The annual London Cares Curb Hunger Food Drive has returned for another year, and once again, organizers are calling on Londoners to get creative and consider growing their donations as inflation and housing costs see more Londoners visiting the food bank for help.
The 26th edition of the campaign, held in support of the London Food Bank, kicked off Wednesday morning with a launch event outside St. Aidan’s Church with a focus on fresh food, in addition to standard non-perishable items.
This year’s campaign, which runs until June 18, continues an initiative first introduced last year: green walls — 30-centimetre-by-120-centimetre vertical gardens that can be used when space is at a premium. Larger one-metre-by-one-metre walls are also available.
“The idea of those is you grow and then you take that food that you grow and you give it to local depots or to the food bank itself to feed food-insecure families,” said Glen Pearson, co-executive director of the London Food Bank.
The green walls are being offered again thanks to the help of the Business Cares Food Drive. Pearson said roughly $500,000 worth of green walls and greenhouses are being given out to the community for free.
As important as the food bank’s role is, it’s important that people learn how to grow their own food, “so that we no longer have to depend on chains and other things that come in that, should something disrupt them, we’re all in trouble,” Pearson said.
It’s all part of a larger pivot away from mostly non-perishable staples and toward more fresh, locally grown, nutritious food. The amount of fresh food handed out by the food bank has grown from 22 per cent in 2017 to 55 per cent now.
For the last 10 years, the food bank has been the primary funder of the Middlesex-London Health Unit-led Harvest Bucks program, which sees vouchers distributed to the community to purchase fresh produce at participating organizations, including the Covent Garden Market.
“Over $1 million of fresh produce has been distributed to people through that program, over $200,000 worth in the last year alone. So there’s a huge need. It’s been a very successful program,” said Dr. Alex Summers, the region’s medical officer of health.
“Over the last many years, we continue to learn more and more about healthy eating, not just in the types of food, but the amount that we eat as well. The conversation that we’re having to ensure that people have access to fresh fruits and vegetables is absolutely essential.”
Campaign comes as food banks report rising service calls
Similar to last year’s drive, which saw the equivalent of 85,000 pounds of food collected, a 10-year high, this year’s campaign has no set goal in mind.
It comes amid a surge in demand for services from the London Food Bank and food banks across the country, as inflation and rising housing costs put further pressure on people’s pocketbooks.
At the London Food Bank, officials had anticipated that 2,900 to 3,000 families would visit the food bank every month, a figure that has grown to 3,600 families and is expected to reach 4,000 by October.
“That’s 10,000 individuals just at the food bank. We help 35 organizations and that’s more than 10,000 people that we help there. So we’re up against it,” Pearson said.
While the food bank has weathered past economic hardships with the help of the community, Pearson expressed concern about Londoners’ ability to pitch in amid higher food, gas and housing prices.
“Will they have the capacity to be able to give as they have in other years? And if they can’t, we totally understand. It’s a challenging time. But will they be able to do that? Food drives like this will help us to determine if they can.”
A survey conducted by Mainstreet Research found almost a quarter of Canadians reported eating less than they should because there wasn’t enough money for food – a figure that nearly doubled for those earning under $50,000 a year.
It also found one in five Canadians reported going hungry at least once between March 2020 and March 2022.
Statistics Canada says consumers paid 9.7 per cent more for food at stores in April compared with a year ago, the largest increase since September 1981.
Free greenhouses for faith groups, local organizations
In addition to the green walls, the food bank is also pushing its Plant a Row, Grow a Row initiative, and, with the help of Business Cares, is again providing greenhouses for larger community groups and faith organizations to grow produce to donate to the food bank.
St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, where Wednesday’s food drive launch took place, was one of the first organizations to take part in the greenhouse initiative as part of last year’s drive.
The church set up three greenhouses on its west London property, including one, Abraham’s Tent, tended to by members of several local faith groups, including St. Aidan’s, Temple Israel of London and the London Muslim Mosque.
“It’s been a great project for us. It’s allowed people across generations to interact together, to learn together about growing vegetables and all that,” said Canon Kevin George of St. Aidan’s.
“But it’s also allowed us to become more engaged in feeding the hungry in the community and have that opportunity to be neighbours feeding neighbourhoods. There’s been a lot of learning. Nobody here is a professional gardener.”
Patrick Ferguson, the parish nurse at the church, has been running the greenhouses, and had no experience when the initiative began, George said, “but he’s learned and he’s imparted that knowledge on to the rest of the volunteers.”
The church has already made eight fresh food deliveries to the food bank this year, containing kale, spinach, beans and more, George said, adding that he expects this year’s yield will be much bigger than last year’s, which began later in the growing season.
“We’ve learned a lot more about how to be in relationship with one another and with God’s creation and with the created order around us, with the soil and the plants,” George said.
“And we’ve had to learn how to try and relate to the deer who live here and make sure the deer and the different little critters that come up out of the bog every day, trying to make sure they don’t eat what we want to produce for people.”
How to donate
Londoners looking to contribute to this year’s campaign can donate fresh and non-perishable food items to the London Food Bank’s warehouse at 926 Leathorne St. Non-perishable items can also be dropped off at local fire halls and participating supermarkets.
Monetary donations can be made online via the food bank’s website. All money collected will go toward the purchasing of food to be distributed to the community.
Despite the name, food donations cannot be made through curbside pickup. The curbside option was phased out in 2020 due to low uptake.
— with files from Andrew Graham and The Canadian Press